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Name: Bob
Status: Other
Grade: Other
Location: IL
Country: United States
Date: May 2006


Question:
(For a real historian or canal engineer familiar with American Canals and Waterways) Mr. Brian Girard Bardy of the Flagg Creek Historical Society refers to the Illinois and Michigan Canal as "The Last Great American Canal"; is this true?

What about the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Illinois Waterway and the Illinois and Mississippi Canal (Hennepin Canal) etc. among the myriads of later American canals built after 1848 on into the 20th Century? What would be the actual "Last Great American Canal"?



Replies:
First, let me say I am NOT a "real historian or canal engineer," but I am pretty familiar with the I&M Canal through work at the Chicago Portage Site in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The question is really one of interpretation. There was an era in the first half of the 19th century in which canals were most important in moving people and heavy goods, and played a dominant role in the development of the country's economy. That era pretty much ended with the coming of railroads, and the I & M was the last canal built during that phase.

The I & M opened the same year as the first railroad west from Chicago, and continued to be a factor by providing alternative, competitive transport. After railroads came, canals carried almost no passengers. In respect to passenger travel, Mr. Bardy's comment is pretty accurate, in over all economic importance, not so much so.

J. Elliott



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